EU referendum: does Parliament press the button?

Article 50 Image copyright Reuters

Who presses the button? When is the divorce petition filed?

Whatever the metaphor, the decision to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, the one which provides for member states to withdraw, has emerged as the critical next step.

And a number of constitutional scholars are now questioning whether the prime minister is entitled to take that step, without the explicit consent of Parliament.

There's a very technical argument about whether the "prerogative powers" normally exercised by a prime minister can be used for a decision which would change the law* - but there's some very hard politics lurking behind it.

No room for a rethink

The key point is that once triggered, Article 50 forecloses the possibility of any rethink of the "Leave" decision. That's why many (although far from all) Brexiteers want it triggered as soon as possible, to prevent any backsliding.

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View from Parliament: What happens next?

David Cameron announcing he will stand down Image copyright AFP
Image caption David Cameron is going, and the key decisions on Brexit will be taken by a new leader

What happens next? Everything at once.

We definitely have a Conservative leadership battle; we may well have a Labour one, as well. (The ever-helpful House of Commons Library has produced a very handy briefing on the rules.) The Scottish first minister has said a second independence referendum is now "highly likely".

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Week ahead

Miniature models depict both sides of the British EU debate during a demonstration in front of a miniature London's houses of parliament at the Mini-Europe park in Brussels Image copyright AP
Image caption Debate continues: miniature models depict both sides of the British EU debate in front of a miniature Houses of Parliament

This week's preview of next week's parliamentary action comes with a massive health warning: in the event of a victory for Leave in the EU referendum, much of what follows will probably be cancelled or rescheduled to make room for a series of statements and debates on the process for and ramifications of Brexit.

Some of them might even take place on a special Saturday sitting of the Commons, (the first since the Falklands War) if the prime minister so decides.

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The fear that MPs rarely talk about

Armed police officer at Westminster Image copyright AP

The phrase "out of touch political elite" trips too easily from certain commentariat keyboards.

It's a kind of all-purpose, good-for-all-occasions criticism of any politician. "They don't exactly replicate my views? Out of touch…."

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Week ahead

David Cameron at PMQs Image copyright PA
Image caption The last PMQs before the referendum is likely to be a heated affair

There's some high-powered law-making to be done this week - on policing and crime, and children and social work - but I can't help wondering whether our parliamentarians might be going through the motions a bit, making their final three sitting days before the special referendum recess a kind of phoney war period.

If there are euro-fireworks, the most likely flashpoints are at the Commons question times - where Home Office, Justice, Cabinet Office (in charge of the online voter registration system, remember) and Prime Minister's questions all provide rich opportunities for the referendum campaigns to have a go at each other.

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Spy bill makes Commons progress

Day two of MPs' detailed consideration of the Investigatory Powers Bill - and the issues of the day should be the retention of internet connection records and protection of medical records and journalistic privilege.

There may be clashes, but a series of deals between Labour and the government have defused most of the big problems in advance. I've lost count of the number of times Labour's point person, Keir Starmer uttered the words: "I am grateful for that indication," as the Security Minister John Hayes announced changes.

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Spy bill faces Commons dissection

Person using computer Image copyright PA

Is it a revamped "Snoopers Charter," or is it an essential set of 21st century powers, to fight organised crime and terrorism?

Should the government be able to access your internet browsing history, bug your computer or smartphone, access and hold data on your medical history, trade union activities and much, much more?

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Week ahead

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley will be in the spotlight

Parliament returns for a brief interlude before the EU Referendum campaign becomes all-consuming, and MPs and peers break again for a special Referendum recess. The really heavy-duty legislating will be on the Investigatory Powers Bill (the Snoopers Charter to its opponents) where two days have been set aside for detailed debate, and major amendments are being pressed from all sides. I have written a separate blog post on this.

The week's other new legislation, on buses and protecting cultural property in conflict zones, is fairly uncontroversial - and the main spice will doubtless be provided when the Referendum debate percolates in, perhaps via ministerial statements or urgent questions. One issue to watch is whether Conservative Brexiteers attempt a bit of lesse majeste at PMQs. Tory temperatures are clearly rising, might one of their number take a pop at their leader?

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Week ahead

David Cameron during the Queen's Speech debate Image copyright PA

It's a different kind of parliamentary week - the Commons and the Lords are both focused on debating the Queen's Speech, and there's no legislation to speak of, and no action in the Commons parallel chamber, Westminster Hall.

So as the discussion unfolds in a series of themed debates, the main points of interest will be where parties or individuals put down markers on the content of the different measures.

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Ministers facing trouble over rebel amendment

Greenpeace activists display a banner against TTIP free trade agreement while suspended on one of the Kio towers in Madrid, Spain Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Greenpeace is one organisation opposed to the TTIP free trade agreement

Will ministers have to grit their teeth and support the rebel Queen's Speech amendment proposed today by Brexiteers?

The amendment - formally, it's to the motion thanking Her Majesty for the "Gracious Speech" - is a very smart piece of parliamentary manoeuvre. It invites MPs to "respectfully regret that a Bill to protect the National Health Service from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was not included".

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